It wasn’t much fun being Paul McCartney in 1970. Portrayed by the media as the Beatle who tore the group apart, an offence for which he would be pilloried without mercy, his only solace was his new wife Linda, herself the subject of unwarranted abuse from female fans. “Fuck Linda,” someone scrawled on the wall across the street from Paul’s residence in St John’s Wood. The arrival of their daughter Mary in the summer of 1969 would seem to indicate he took that advice to heart.
Until very recently Paul had John, George and Ringo to turn to when things went wrong, a snug alliance of all-for-one and one-for-all protection. Not only was this no more, but John, in particular, was sniping at him in the press and on record. “The only thing you done was yesterday,” was one of many lyrical taunts in ‘How Do You Sleep’, from John’s Imagine LP. As if John’s barbs weren’t enough, the press, too, were increasingly unkind about his new music.
Meanwhile, lawsuits were flying around like angry wasps and unimagined fortunes were slipping through the Beatles’ fingers. Allen Klein, the wedge between Paul and his three old mates, was a constant thorn in his side. “Fuck you,” wrote Paul in one terse message to the American businessman favoured but ultimately dumped by John, George and Ringo.
Under attack from all sides, Paul and Linda, with her daughter Heather and newly born Mary, went to ground, hiding out at his farm in Scotland, where creature comforts were thin on the ground, and to America, where anonymity was easier, especially behind the style of beard favoured by rustic backwoodsmen. Paul (and Linda) got stoned a lot – his fondness for marijuana and belief that it should be legalised is a running theme of this book – and embarked on a tireless round of DIY recording sessions, with songs pouring from him as never before. Soon, he would perform them with a new band, Wings, but find it impossible to shake off his past.
This, in a nutshell, is the gist of The McCartney Legacy, a weighty volume inspired no doubt by the diligence that Mark Lewisohn brought to Tune In, the first in his trilogy of mind-bogglingly detailed books about The Beatles. Following a similar route, Allan Kozin and Adrian Sinclair leave no stone unturned in their book about Paul’s struggles to find a place for himself after the break-up of the group to which he’d devoted the last 12 years of his life.
It’s a massive book yet it covers only four years, the period between Paul’s first solo LP, simply titled McCartney, and Band On The Run, his fifth post-Beatle LP credited to Paul McCartney & Wings, released in 1973 and still widely regarded as his best post-Beatle work. In between, there’s three other LPs, the formation of Wings, shows in the UK and Continental Europe, heaps of business dealings, press interviews galore, a drug bust or two, the arrival of second daughter Stella, confrontations with fans who, as ever, assemble outside his St John’s Wood home, a TV special, and meetings, friendlier than you might expect, with his old mates.
The book’s only real fault is that the second half is far and away more interesting than the first, largely because more was happening in Paul’s world during 1972 and ’73. Unfortunately, interminable analysis of song structures and meticulous details of recording sessions for Ram and Wild Life become wearisome in the early chapters, no doubt the contribution of co-author Kozinn, a graduate of the conservatory. Fortunately, in the later chapters such details are punctuated by fascinating, fly-on-the-wall reportage of Wings’ progress and their early tours.
Much of this comes from the diaries of American drummer Denny Seiwell and his wife Monique, and interviews with their first tour manager John Morris, also American, the same man who went on to manage London’s Rainbow Theatre. Tellingly, Denny Laine – the other member of Wings with form – is missing from the lengthy list of acknowledgements at the end, unless, of course, he’s one of those who asked to remain anonymous.
From them and others, we learn about how the group was assembled, how Paul’s aim to be ‘just another member of the band’ was hopelessly optimistic – a bit like Bowie and Tin Machine – and how and why Wings Mark 1 fell apart, the root cause being Paul’s overbearing manner in the studio, the same issue that caused George to walk out of the Beatles’ Let It Be sessions. Being told what to play was too much for guitarist Henry McCulloch, who quit after a heated exchange, taking Seiwell with him. It didn’t help, either, that they (and Laine) were paid a mere £70 a week, considerably less than the individual members of Brinsley Schwartz received when they supported Wings on their 1973 UK tour.
With the group in disarray Paul showed considerable character in ploughing on with plans to record his next album, the record that became Band On The Run, in Nigeria, with this adventure – in all senses of the word – and the LP’s subsequent acclaim bringing the book to a fitting climax. It’s a testament to Paul’s stubborn, occasionally impulsive, nature that even with two men down he persisted with the African trip. “I’ll show ‘em,” was his attitude. “I don’t need you.” He needed a bodyguard though, for he and Linda were lucky to survive an unpleasant mugging during an ill-advised late-night stroll.
A book of this size is loaded with evidence for both the prosecution and defence of Paul’s methods and temperament, as well as trivial gems galore that fascinate. Here’s a sample: Paul was holidaying in Scotland and unable to respond when Apple received a telegram inviting him to play bass on a session with Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis in New York; he paid $100,000 (then £40,000) for the Buddy Holly song catalogue; Paul and Linda sent the contents of one of Stella’s nappies to the odious journalist (and future Daily Mail editor) Paul Dacre in response to his negative coverage of Wings for the Daily Express; EMI offered Paul a miserable £5,000 advance for Band On The Run; and Jet was the name of a black pup, one of seven birthed in Scotland to Paul’s and Linda’s Labrador Poppy.
Furthermore, the book is not without humour: on August 10, 1972, in Gothenburg, Paul and Linda, drummer Seiwell and Paul’s secretary Rebecca Hinds found themselves in jail at the city’s police station, charged with possession of cannabis. A package containing the drug, posted from the UK and addressed to Seiwell, had been intercepted by Swedish customs who’d notified the local narcotics cops.
“I went down to the police station, and they had put them all in separate rooms,” recalls tour manager Morris. “And you could hear Linda saying, ‘I want the American ambassador! I know my rights!’ I was working it out with the prosecutor… we posted a bond, which wasn’t a hell of a lot of money, and I said, ‘I’ll make you a deal. I’ll give you twice as much if you keep her.’ He said, ‘No, no. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll make it four times as much unless you take her.’”
The McCartney Legacy is a great achievement, thorough in its research, fascinating in detail, albeit designed primarily to appeal to dedicated Macca (or Beatles) fans and unlikely to interest casual admirers. Illustrated with appropriate black & white pictures throughout, it lacks an index, unforgivable in a book of this scope*, and costs just over £15 on Amazon, which is a cheap for a 712-page hardback.
* I am informed by co-author Adrian Sinclair that the lack of index was due to industrial action at the publishers and is a sore point between them and the authors.